Mystery Romance

The package was sitting on Harwell’s front porch, undisturbed since the postman dropped it off an hour earlier. Harwell was home and knew it had arrived but was in no hurry to retrieve it. With not a soul living within a hundred feet of his house in the woods, there was no chance of a neighbor making off with it. He also had not placed an order for a delivery of any kind.

           He stood by his front window, sipping a cup of tea and staring at it. It was as plain as any parcel he had received, which wasn’t many. Wrapped in dull brown paper, it was but a few inches in all dimensions, and unremarkable in every physical characteristic. Yet it still stood out like a sore thumb, even when it was the same shade as the wooden porch on which it sat. It was inconspicuous but clearly did not look as if it belonged there.

           Harwell finished his tea, and now bored, he decided to go pick it up. He slowly walked over to the door, opened it, and picked up the package. It was not heavy and he did not have any trouble bringing it into the house.

           He sat it on the table in his dining room, which was used mostly for storage as no one had actually dined there in years. Harwell lived alone and almost never had visitors. As soon as he placed it on the table he looked at it curiously. He picked it up again and examined it. There was nothing written on the exterior of the parcel except for his name – not even an address. There was no return name or anything that might indicate who sent it. All there was was a small tag attached to it by a tiny white string.

           Harwell looked at the tag. It too did not have a name or return address. All it said, in flowery handwritten cursive, was “I love you,” followed by a small hand-drawn heart. That was it.

           He sat down on the table, frumpily, and lay his head into his arms. He was completely baffled, having no idea who would send him such a gift, and feeling very hesitant to open it.

           “Are you sure you didn’t send me any packages within the last few weeks?”

           “I’m sure, son. Your mother and I didn’t send you anything.”

           “Well do you know of anyone else who might have? Anyone say anything to you about me?”

           “Why don’t you check with your brother?”

           “C’mon Dad, why would Jeremy send me a package that said ‘I love you’ on it?”

           “Might be his idea of a joke.”

           Harwell shrugged. “Perhaps. He knows I hate that sort of thing.”

           “All the more reason.”

“Okay, I’ll go give him a call then. Talk to you later.”

           He hung up and then dialed his brother. After two rings the distant sibling answered.

           “What’s up, bro?”

           “Jeremy, I just got the strangest package delivered to me today.”

           “Uh, okay?”

           “Do you know anything about it?”

           “Uh uh. I didn’t send you anything.”

           “That’s what I thought. There’s no return address on it or anything.”

           “What does it look like?”

           “It’s just a box. Wrapped in brown paper, and there’s a white tag on it that says ‘I love you.’”

           “Whoa. Sounds like a secret admirer!”

           “Yeah, very funny. Why would someone do that?”

           “Love works in mysterious ways.”

           “I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t love. It’s more like mental trickery. Also quite immature.”

           “You must be very fun at parties.”

           “I’m telling you, I have no idea who would send this! Who would be smitten with me? I haven’t even been on a date in like two years!”

           “Because you never go for it, that’s why! You’re way too risk avoidant!”

           Harwood glared into his phone. “I am not! I just, like to know where things are going before I get there. And that’s not the issue right now anyway.”

           “You never go for it at all. You always expected the right woman to just come to you magically.”

           “I am… someone who likes stability. I know that’s hard for you to understand, Mister I’ve Knocked Up Four Women on Three Separate Continents.”

           “Why don’t you open the package and see what’s inside?”

           “I don’t know. I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

           “What, you think it’s gonna blow up or something?”

           “No, it’s nothing like that.” Harwood sighed heavily. “I just think this could all be a set up, you know? And opening it would make this thing go even further.”

           “You won’t know unless you open it. You can sit there staring at it for a thousand years, but that’s not gonna solve the mystery.”

           “Like I really wanted a mystery to solve today. What am I, Detective Poirot?”

           “It’s a bloody box. If you don’t like the contents of it you can just leave it outside to rot.”

           Harwood paused, looking at the package. He knew he would eventually open it, if only to not let the mystery fester in his mind. And yet something was keeping him from doing so right away. He wondered if deep down he was afraid the reveal would be disappointing and he wanted to delay it for as long as he could.

           “Yeah Jerry, I guess you’re right. I’ll talk to you later.” He hung up the phone and placed it face down on the table. He sat down and looked at the package some more, still not ready to open it yet.

           He looked at the tag again. The words seared into his mind. I love you. For such a simple message, the meaning couldn’t have been more opaque. Who loved him? Did anyone love him? And why?

           Finally, he couldn’t resist it anymore. He pulled the package over to him and unwrapped the paper from it. It revealed a small white box of thin cardboard, with the lid secured with scotch tape. He peeled the tape off and opened the lid.

           Inside, not surprising to him, were Styrofoam packing peanuts. He fished around inside and felt something smooth and hard. He retrieved it from the box and saw what it was – a framed photograph. Of him, and a woman.

           His eyes shot wide open when he saw the picture. He did not recognize the woman, had never even seen her before. Yet there she was, lovingly embracing him, with a big earnest smile on her face. He was smiling in the photo as well, so vibrantly that he barely recognized himself.

           She was a pretty woman as well – not the most gorgeous in the world, but she had thick, luscious black hair and a very attractive face that was youthful as well as approachable. Even though it was a black and white photo, her rosy cheeks were very noticeable and enhanced her beauty even more.

Harwood managed to peel his eyes away from her and looked at himself in the photo again. It was then that he noticed his face had far more wrinkles than it normally had, and his hair was much grayer. It became clear to him that the man in the picture was not his current age of forty-four years. He had to have been at least ten years older.

He placed the picture on the table and stood up. He blinked his eyes several times, then pinched himself. Nothing happened. This was real. He looked at the picture again. How could someone have sent him a photo of a future version of himself, with a woman?

Harwood was tempted to call his brother back and rip him for sending him this colossally stupid idea of a prank. But his brother clearly had no prior knowledge of this, and neither did anyone else whom he knew. Aside from his family, no one else even knew where he lived.

Harwood went into the kitchen and began brewing himself another cup of tea. The photo was by now burned into his brain. It was not a joke. It meant something – it had to come from somewhere. But he knew he would probably never know from where.

The photo was still occupying the back of his mind when he took a walk through the town center the next day, although he tried to focus on the scene around him. Even though he had only ventured to the town to run some small errands, he purposely took the scenic route through the central plaza. It was a vibrant place, fully of lush greenery, well-paved asphalt walkways, and a beautiful fountain that sprayed jets of water into a large wide basin. It was a pleasant day and there were scores of people milling around. Harwood walked around the perimeter of the plaza and gazed at the fountain.

There were too many people for him to notice any particular person. But as he walked past a set of benches at the edge of the plaza, he noticed someone sitting on one up ahead. She didn’t catch his eye at first but once she looked in his direction and he saw her face, his heart skipped a beat. He stood in place and looked at her discreetly, trying hard not to make eye contact with her.

           She wasn’t someone that he knew. But her face looked identical to the woman who was in the photo with him.

           Harwood rubbed his eyes, blinked, turned his head around, then turned back again. She was now looking at the laptop that sat on her lap and on which she was typing. He could no longer see her entire face but she still looked like the one who was embracing him in the mysterious photo he received in the mail.

           He slowly walked over to her, not wanting to seem threatening. She was clearly busy and did not appear to want to be disturbed, least of all by a strange man. Harwood thought about just leaving her alone, that the physical resemblance was a coincidence and nothing more. But his mind couldn’t accept that was the case.

           He stood in front of her, about six feet away from her, trying to get another look at her face without appearing to be leering at her. Eventually there was no doubt in his mind that the two faces were the same. He cleared his throat, and mustered up every ion of courage in his body to introduce himself.

           “Hi there. Nice day, isn’t it?”

           She looked up at him, and to his great relief, she grinned slightly. “Sure is. It’s great weather for working outside.”

           Harwood smiled back at her. “I hope you’re not working too hard on a day that’s clearly meant for play.”

           “Well, I kind of have to get this thing done soon. It’s a book I’m writing and my publisher needs another draft on Monday.”

           “You’re writing a book? What’s it about?”

           She paused, smiling directly at him. “It’s called, You Have to Make the Future Happen.”

           Harwood didn’t say a word at first. The words imprinted on his brain as if a branding iron burned them on there. He watched as she returned her attention to her computer screen.

           “Wow. That’s deep. You’re quite the thinker there.”

           She smiled at him again. “Thank you. I hope you’ll look for the book when it’s out in stores.”

           Harwood was very entranced by her smile and her face; she really was a gorgeous woman. There were lots of questions on his mind, but only one where the answer really mattered.

           “When you’re finished with your writing, would you like to get a cup of coffee?” As soon as the words left his mouth, his stomach twisted itself into a hundred knots, and he felt almost sick.

           The woman looked up at him with a surprised expression. “Sure!” She clicked on her computer keyboard, closed the lid and placed the device in her nearby bag. “My manuscript can wait a few hours. Let’s go right now!”

           As soon as she stood up from the bench, Harwood took her hand into his. He felt as if he was on a cloud of helium. It was a feeling he had never experienced before, and what made it even better was that he had made it happen himself.

December 03, 2021 22:09

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.